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If conventional history is written for the victor, then pop history is all too often written for the loser. Again and again it's the drug addict, the suicidal or the tragic that become icons, while anyone vaguely stable is neglected as dull. Hence the deification of Lennon over McCartney, and the fact that the dysfunctional Brian Wilson is often considered the quintessential Californian songwriter when that crown rightfully belongs to the Mamas and the Papas' more boring John Phillips.
That's why this 4 disc collection, coming so hot on the heels of Wilson's great but over-rated Smile, is such a useful reminder of how heart stoppingly, life affirmingly wonderful the Mamas were at their very finest. Listening to the gorgeous, sumptuous harmonies that open 'Monday Monday' is like opening a door into a fresh, ecstatic world where pop was still young and giddy with its own possibilities. It's also proof that the Mamas were simply the finest group of vocalists to have ever found their way into a recording studio.
Understandably, the band's most famous song is 'California Dreaming', a homesick lament which somehow sounds like distilled joy. But, like all good anthologies, there are hidden treasures here. 'Dream A Little Dream of Me' has been covered by hundreds of artists, but it has never been sung as smokily and dreamily as it is here, while the Mama Cass' solo 'Make Your Own Kind Of Music' is so simple, catchy and happy that it makes Abba sound like Radiohead.
And no, nobody needs all 101 of these songs. Occasionally the Mamas' huge harmonic sound can cloy and while their cover of 'You've Got to Hide Your Love Away' effortlessly bests the original, the same cannot be said of their nauseous version of "Yesterday". And omitting Mama Cass' un-nerving, prophetic 'Californian Earthquake' is a silly mistake.
But this is a collection that defies griping, a treasure chest of pop gold and gems and a truly pleasurable thing to own. Without them, that pop history bookreally would be boring. --Jaime Gill
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